Heated protests have broken out in downtown St. Louis after a former police officer was acquitted in the 2011 fatal shooting of a black man.
Today, St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson found 36-year-old Jason Stockley not guilty of first-degree murder and armed criminal action. On Dec. 20, 2011, the then-police officer, who is white, shot 24-year-old Lamar Smith five times after a high-speed chase and crash.
The Metropolitan Police Department for the city of St. Louis wrote on Twitter this evening that the protests were “no longer considered peaceful” and instructed citizens to avoid the area.
A total of 13 people have been arrested thus far, police said, and four officers were assaulted. One officer was treated for a hand injury.
Some officers were wearing protective gear due to items being thrown at them, police said. Mace was deployed on the crowd after one officer was struck with a water bottle, police said.
Officials also tweeted a video of protesters stomping on the hood of a police car.
Some demonstrators were seen openly carrying rifles on the streets, which is legal in Missouri, according to The Associated Press, but there have been no reports of weapons being fired.
The protests have been “for the most part” nonviolent, police said.
“There have been some tense moments where agitators became destructive,” they said.
Stockley’s acquittal also elicited outrage from several local officials, condemning the anxiously awaited bench verdict.
“This not-guilty verdict of a police officer who violently killed a citizen is another slap in the face to the black community in St. Louis,” Missouri state Rep. Michael Butler said in a statement. “And a shot in the heart to the family of the victim,” he said of Smith.
“This system and all the politicians calling for peace are ignoring the pain this verdict causes our communities,” Butler added. “We will be nonviolent but we will not settle on peace. No justice. No peace.”
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson offered a more measured response, though equally emotional.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Anthony Lamar Smith, our police, judge, prosecutor, our citizens who find no comfort or justice, and everyone involved in this difficult case,” she said in a statement.
“I am appalled at what happened to Anthony Lamar Smith. I am sobered by this outcome. Frustration, anger, hurt, pain, hope and love all intermingle.”
Stockley and his partner at the time, Brian Bianchi, were trying to apprehend Smith for a suspected drug deal at a Church’s Chicken restaurant, according to court documents.
Stockley was facing up to life in prison without parole had he been convicted of both charges.
Crowds of people gathered today near the courthouse in downtown St. Louis to protest the ruling. Police blocked streets nearby so demonstrators could march.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, anticipating protests in response to the controversial ruling, released a statement saying he understood the verdict is painful for many St. Louisans.
“We know this verdict causes pain for many people,” Greitens said. “I’m committed to protecting everyone’s constitutional right to protest peacefully, while also protecting people’s lives, homes and communities. For anyone who protests, please do so peacefully.”
Stockley’s defense attorneys argued that the then-officer acted “reasonably” in self-defense in killing a drug suspect he believed was reaching for a hidden gun.
Prosecutors alleged that Stockley planted a .38-caliber revolver in Smith’s Buick after he shot him.
In his verdict, Wilson wrote that the court “is simply not firmly convinced of [Stockley’s] guilt.”
And because prosecutors “failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [Stockley’s] use of deadly force was not justified in self-defense,” Wilson wrote that he could not address lesser charges of homicide, including involuntary manslaughter.
ABC News’ James Hill contributed to this report.
Original story is here : http://abcnews.go.com/US/st-louis-police-officers-acquittal-fatal-shooting-ignites/story?id=49872333